by Backpacking Light Editor-in-Chief |
Carol served as an officer in the U.S. Navy from 1977 until her retirement in 1996. After earning a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1981, she went on to hold various leadership positions in undersea surveillance.
In 1988, Carol received M.S. degrees in Electrical Engineering and Engineering Acoustics from the Naval Postgraduate School. She then served as a project engineer for the worldwide undersea surveillance system at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in Washington, D.C. where she managed eight contracts, valued at over $70 million, to develop, build and maintain undersea surveillance equipment. Carol next served as the Electronics Maintenance Officer for a year at an undersea surveillance facility in Norfolk, VA, followed by two years as Director of Operations at the same facility. As Director of Operations, Carol was responsible for the daily work performance, training, and professional development of 300 sailors, officers, and civil servants. Her command won the Operational Excellence Award as best of six undersea surveillance facilities while under her leadership.
Carol moved to California in 1994 to become Officer-in-Charge of the Navy Training Center at Treasure Island. She managed 150 people with a $2.2 million budget responsible for training 9000 sailor students each year in leadership and shipboard damage control, maintenance and repair. During her tenure she became certified as a Master Training Specialist. Upon her retirement from the Navy in 1996, Carol moved to Phoenix, Arizona.
From 1996 through 2003, Carol's focus changed. She developed and taught a series of courses called the Life Success Group which used meditation as a tool to help hundreds of people bring order and joy to their lives through conscious choices and decision-making with integrity. Carol also taught one-day workshops and hosted a 13-week radio show devoted to the same subject.
During the same time period, Carol began her backpacking career in earnest. Carol grew up in upstate New York and spent her childhood summers roaming the countryside surrounding her family's dairy farm. Always dreaming of a deeper wilderness experience, events, and eventually work commitments, conspired to keep her from living her dream. Retirement from the Navy opened the door to freedom for her. Soon after moving to Phoenix, Carol started exploring the backcountry areas of her adopted state in earnest. She took her first real backpacking trip, solo, in 1997 to test the new gear she'd acquired for an upcoming group trip into the Grand Canyon. A light load was essential since 24 pounds of water would be part of the pack weight for the initial trek to Horseshoe Mesa. Thus began the start of three traditions for Carol: solo backpacking, lightweight backpacking, and gear testing. Following a wonderful experience in the Grand Canyon, Carol was hooked on backpacking.
In July and August 1999, to celebrate turning 40, Carol embarked on the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS) 27-Day Field Course. Established in 1968, BOSS is the oldest and largest traditional living skills / survival school in the world. The Field Course put an emphasis on traditional techniques over modern technology. The course consisted of six phases. Instructors guided the trekkers during the first two phases, but students were on their own in small groups or solo, for the remainder of the course.
During the first five days of the course, called Impact, gear consisted of little more than a jacket, knife, compass, and cup. Days were spent hiking over the rugged terrain of the southern Utah desert and nights were spent huddled together buried under forest duff for warmth. There was no food, and no water carrying vessel, so travel was definitely lightweight. Water was found only from natural sources and the first five days of Carol's course included one, day and a half stretch, without water.
After the Impact phase, participants were allowed minimal gear. Total pack weight was less than 25 pounds. Shelter and rain protection came from an Army poncho. A wool Army blanket formed the pack and sleeping bag. Participants were not encumbered by modern conveniences such as flashlights, matches, and lighters. Fires were started for cooking, light, and warmth with bow and drill constructed from native materials. Food consisted of staples such as brown rice, potatoes, onions, and oatmeal.
Carol and six adventurers survived all six phases of the course to emerge more comfortable and self-reliant in the natural world and weighing quite a bit less than at the start. The experience taught Carol how to be comfortable in the backcountry with less conveniences than she would have imagined possible, further enhancing her lightweight backpacking mindset.
Since her first solo overnighter in 1997, Carol has spent over 30 nights in the backcountry each year. She loves backpacking in the desert and forests near her home in Phoenix. Since discovering the joys of mountain travel in 2000, she has spread her backpacking range to include the Sierras in California, including summiting Mount Whitney, the Beartooths in Wyoming, and the Sawtooths in Idaho. She has also backpacked in Oregon's Columbia Gorge on two occasions, successfully escaping an excess of dry, sunny, beautiful weather in her home state. In 2002 she tried snow camping for the first time. After an educational five-day solo snowshoe backpack trip to Mosquito Flats in the eastern Sierras, she was hooked and makes sure to get in a few snow camping trips each year.
Carol began organizing backpacking trips in 2000 for new backpackers that, of course, included an emphasis on "lightening the load." In 2004, she began teaching pack "weight loss" techniques to groups, with an emphasis on women new to backpacking. Her vision is to help women who might have been intimidated by heavy packs in the past to give lightweight backpacking a try.
Carol's engineering background and problem solving nature lead her to lots of at-home and on-trail experimentation and testing of new gear, altered gear, and gear she creates. She is on a never-ending quest to find the perfect blend of gear so that she carries the lightest pack whose contents include adequate safety gear and essentials for just enough comfort in camp. Carol formalized her gear testing habit in 2002 when she began testing gear and writing reviews for BackpackGearTest.org (http://www.backpackgeartest.org/tester_reviews/cmcrooker).
Carol's typical base pack weight for a three-season trip is under 10 pounds. She currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona.
"Carol Crooker," by Backpacking Light Editor-in-Chief. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).